It's been a long time since I heard anything so fresh and invigorating as this the first U.K. release but third Australian release from the wonderfully bright, vivacious and ridiculously youthfull in outlook - The Waifs. I just love this album. At present it is brightening up those never ending days of winter. From the depths of Western Australia The Waifs follow in a long line of Australian bands and songwriters who create epic sweeping songscapes and paint ultra-vivid pictures of Aussie life and psyche. Remember The Go Betweens? Remember The Triffids? Remember Weddings Parties Anything? The Waifs just radiate infectious melody and the feet are tapping fron the onset, but hey its not all sweetness and light. There is a deep dark edge in there that bubbles up at times. The album's opener 'The Waitress' bounces around with reckless abandon like the first day of spring. By the time they get to 'Service Fee' the storm clouds are gathering. It wasn't very pretty, it wasn't very kind I'd rather go deaf, paralysed or blind, but I lay back, held still by the fear that you would smash me to pieces and that I'd die here I don't want to die here No thankyou mister I'd rather walk home alone. The Waifs are a trio of highly spirited Aussie visionaries. Sisters Vikky and Donna Simpson on strident uplifting melody and McGarrigle style harmony and Josh Cunningham on electric guitar and mandolin. In full flight the results are simply awesome. Donna Simpson's songwriting puts her up with other Australian songwriting genius-Paul Kelly, Mick Thomas, Robert Forster, Grant McLennan and the late great David McComb and when she sings dirty its as dirty as can be. So now when I make love, I make love to myself. I got no disease so it's good for my health. I got my hands down my pants-down my Calvin Klein's I don't need you no more baby. I can come every time. The best thing of all is that when they let rip they sound so swaggering Australian and Sydney doesn't seem so far away. It's a small world getting smaller. The Waifs-They might be giants. They bloody well should be.
I first heard the Waifs when they supported a Billy Bragg tour in the UK a few years back. They really took my breath away - the mixture of really good musicianship, great melodies and captivating lyrics, combined with a raw Aussie feel and down to earth approach, made me order all of their albums in one go. At the time, this was/is the strongest one. There isn't one dud track on the CD and some real stand out ones (e.g. without you, the haircut). Add in some decent politics (lies) and its a worthwhile investment. I was going to describe them as a cross between Australian folk and country, but I don't know much about either of those and so might be misleading. Basically, if you like decent music, clever lyrics and catchy songs, then give it a try. Everyone I have played this to has been impressed. Just be prepared to then get their other albums!
Thus far, "Sink or Swim" is my least favorite album from The Waifs, but that isn't all that difficult considering I have enjoyed the four albums I have heard from them. This is their third album, and it was released in June of 2000 in Australia. They are a bit more adventurous with their sound on this CD as opposed to their first two CDs, which is a good thing. Where the album comes up short is in some of the lyrics which come across as awkward at times.
The album opens with "The Waitress", a very strong piece with a unique sound. This is followed by "Lies", another good piece with a more typical sound for The Waifs. Next up is "Danger" a piece where the soft melodic tune doesn't seem to match the lyric all that well, but still a nice track. "Without You" is where I start to feel the album lags a bit. I admit I am spoiled by having heard the version of "Without You" that appears on "Sun Dirt Water", and maybe I would have preferred this version if I heard it first, but I don't think so. This version has a more strident feel to it, and that doesn't suit it as well. "The Haircut" is next, and this is one of the pieces that has a lyric which seems awkward to me.
"Love Serenade" is a nice piece with a positive feel. "Taken" is next, another decent song, but not one which really grabs the ear. "Service Fee" is another example of a song with an odd lyric which made me feel that they were really reaching to find something to say. The idea that the answer to an abusive relation is the threat of charging a service fee just didn't work for me, but the song does have a nice tune. "A Brief History" is an unusual piece, where Josh recites a brief history of the group. "When I Die" is a song with a country-western feel. "Sink or Swim" is another song which is far from standard, but I found that it wasn't as good as some of the other chances that they have taken in stretching their overall sound.
The Waifs are Josh Cunningham (acoustic & electric guitars, mandolin, vocals); Donna Simpson (acoustic guitar, vocals); Vikki Simpson (at the time of the album, and now Vikki Thom) (acoustic guitar, vocals, harmonica); and with Ben Franz (electric & double bass); David Ross Macdonald (drums & percussion). There are numerous guest musicians on this album, including Dave Macdonald (drums, Percussion, Banjo, vocals), Stewart Speed (electric and double bass), Matt Walker (lap steel guitar), Jen Anderson (violin), Phil Moriarty (clarinet), Anita Quayle (cello), and Steven Teakle (accordian).
This album is great, if you like the waifs you will love it and if you don't then it's a good place to start liking them! I fall into the first catagory and already had the live album and I was curious to hear their studio work. Recommended.